Forest SanghaNewsletterOctober 1992

Learning and Spirituality; Ajahn Sucitto
Complementary Education; Medhina Fright
Meditating with Children; Sister Abhassara
Life of a Forest Monk (Pt V); Luang Por Jun
Alone on a Mountain; Venerable Chandako
In the Deathless Land; Sister Rosemary
Questions and Answers; Luang Por Chah

Signs of Change:


The Ground of the Temple

There is news in the air concerning stupas and temples, edifices of the holy life whose many forms date from ancient times and transcend cultures. Symbolically, the stupa is the Axis Mundi, the central still point of the world, around which conditioned dhammas turn. It is a place of recollection of the example of a Master and of the transcendent goal, the Deathless, where the elements find rest.

Currently they're building a stupa at Wat Pah Pong, Ajahn Chah's main monastery, and bhikkus have been coming from branch monasteries in Thailand to contribute their efforts in erecting a sacred structure that will serve both as a funeral pyre and a reliquary for the Master's ashes. At the same time, stupas are also being built in New Zealand and at Harnham - and why not? In the realm of spiritual geography 'the world' of consciousness is immeasurably manifold, and the Axis Mundi, be it a Mesopotamian ziggurat, a Chinese pagoda or the mind of a Buddha, is present at each point of stillness that centres it.

There are also plans, which we hope will be realised, for a temple building at Amaravati - functioning as a meditation hall, but also existing in the realm of symbol. While the stupa symbolises the point of attention, the temple represents the spiritual space that allows reflection. Such a space requires the movement of phenomena freely within it, phenomena that are circumscribed only by the purity of the intent to see truth directly. Our word is derived from the Latin 'templum' meaning a consecrated space marked out on the ground within which one observes the movements of Nature; quite literally and more universally, the ground where one stands to contemplate the way things are.

Deep-rooted perceptions of inadequacy, hard-heartedness, subconscious emotional needs for Mother/Father/personal identity - the Western expressions of Mara's host - can all savage the heart's resolve.
In practising contemplation, it doesn't take long to find out about the ground. Meditation may sound ethereal - and life in monasteries seem quaint and padded out with archaic trappings - but the experience within these forms is often one of being quite rudely thrown onto the hard surface of the mind's resistances and unresolved need. Rather than take issue with them (how?) we are encouraged to define them through the many references of Buddha-Dhamma; to map out the ground of existence in terms of the four Foundations of Mindfulness, the five khandha, the Four Noble Truths and so on. That, rather than any other effort, is the heart of the practice. But even that act of marking out the ground is subject to the will and capacity to carry it out. Deep-rooted perceptions of inadequacy, hard-heartedness, subconscious emotional needs for Mother/Father/personal identity - the Western expressions of Mara's host - can all savage the heart's resolve. Sometimes you even get caught by the suspicion that the whole spiritual path is yet another delusion, another fantasy contrived for the gratification or defence of the ego.

Actually the host of Mara points to a need to go deeper, to penetrate the fragmentary drives that create the self-image and replace them with gestures that are more holistic and sacred. When you enter the soft heart of the mind, you need spiritual references, not psychological techniques, to find a ground that doesn't give way beneath you. This, to a contemplative, is what religious form is for.

Hence spiritual life has always valued symbol and archetype, and a full commitment to enact them in terms of body, speech and mind. The cluster of Pali words that define Buddhist monastic life give some clues as to the form of those gestures: Puja - the daily offering of oneself, and praise (not acquisition) of the timeless truth; Uposatha - the 'drawing close' to the Sublime through precepts and meditation; Pabbajja - the 'Going Forth' from the aims and values of the material world, and a dying to that, so that with Upasampada one is 'raised up', resurrected to be 'born of the Dhamma'.

These create the walls of the temple wherein one discerns the Buddha-image, at first very dimly-lit and neglected, on a makeshift shrine. And there, slowly, the realisation and the gladness dawns. We are indeed fortunate to touch, even briefly, the true and selfless ground of being.

Living according to a tradition, connected to a Way that has thousands of observances - for laity and monastics alike - provides many occasions to enact selflessness in terms of renunciation and in terms of relationship to community. Both of these finally have to be carried out for no other purpose than devotion to Truth, both have their meaning - respectively inducing the still point of no-thing and the vast space of totality - and both are expressions of Ultimate Truth. But maybe at this time of the fragmentation of nations, societies and families, our approach has to be one of communion, of creating the temple that contains all beings. It could be in a crowded hall for a Kathina ceremony, in a house with a family - or wherever the mind of sharing pitches its tent.

Ajahn Sucitto




The Peoples of the Forest
Inspired by a Walk in Dhamma Class
The peoples of the forest
melting into their surroundings like sheets of glass on a frozen lake
adorned, rather than dressed, in the sharp green bracken fronds
And remains of the summer bluebells.
Barefoot on the wet, mulchy carpet of dead leaves
Two of them, strolling idly
With a wary step
cobwebbed and dappled by shafts of sunlight filtering through the beeches
frowning in puzzlement at a coke can
then leaving it alone;
We can smell them the sylvan ones
Dead leaves, wet grass, rain and pine needles
Just hear their crackling footsteps
But never see;
They are but shadows of shadows
Illuminated occasionally in patches
where the sky gets in
And one day they will all be gone
all except the two that were walking
civilisation creeping up behind them and a warm wind turning cold at their backs.
As we walk, swathed in dull winter coats
We cannot hear them any more
Do not smell the pines and beeches strong with their presence.
A shafting beam catches my cheek
And as we walk back past the city
A shop window reflects us like a mirror
And we see them at last for the first time;
We, too, then, are the peoples of the forest.

Jesse Errey Age 12


Luang Por Chah's Cremation
16th January, 1993, Wat Pah Pong, Thailand
The senior monks and nuns from the monasteries in England, Switzerland and Italy, as well as Sangha representatives from Australia and New Zealand, have been invited to attend the ceremonies at Wat Pah Pong from the 10-20 of January. Following this, there will be a gathering of Luang Por Chah's Western disciples at Wat Pah Nanachat from the 20-27 th of January.

Travelling to Thailand for the Ceremony
It is expected that there will be in excess of 100,000 people attending the ceremony in Thailand. Two of the Sangha's Thai supporters living in Britain have offered to coordinate travel arrangements for lay people in this country. The party is expected to fly direct to Ubon Rajathani, via Bangkok, where accommodation for lay people has been arranged. For further details please contact either Mudita (0730-812555) in the South of England; or Nantip (091-281-0161) in the North. Last bookings: 31st October.